Boppa Guy, as you were known, in order keep our two grandfathers straight, it’s been 11 years to the day. 11 years since you last smiled, and, although I wasn’t there, I know you were smiling, even as you were dying, because that’s who you were. It’s been 11 years since you went home- a place that you never felt was here on earth. And while I can’t believe it’s been 11 years, it’s even harder for me to believe why today it hurts more than it has in years. Why it hurts not nearly as much as 11 years ago, but at least as much as it has since.
I still remember the day it happened. Or, at least I remember the moment I found out. It was a Wednesday night. I remember my dad calling my sisters and me into his room. He had gone to visit you earlier that evening and had returned about the same time we had returned from church. We sat on his bed, knowing what he was going to say, yet hoping he wouldn’t say it. Because, although we were young, the oldest of us just 11, we understood what his silence meant. We knew you were sick. We saw you just a few days earlier when they brought you home from the hospital because you no longer wanted to be there. You just wanted to be at home, surrounded by those you love, comfortable and at peace. And, although you had come home, we knew that it didn’t mean you were better, but that it meant you wanted to be home when you went home. We knew. So, when my dad said the words I still remember to this day, the words I sometimes still play back in my mind over and over again, none of us were shocked.
What I don’t really remember is how it felt. I don’t remember if I cried right away. I don’t remember if I ever got mad at God for taking you. Or at you for leaving us. I don’t remember if I told any of my friends the next day at school. I don’t remember if I ever tried to deny it. I don’t remember if I actually completely understood what was happening. I remember I cried at your funeral. But, I wasn’t entirely sure if I was crying because I was sad or because everyone else was. I remember asking my mom why she was crying. You weren’t her father, and I thought that meant she shouldn’t be sad. I remember people sharing stories about your life. I remember seeing you in the casket. I even remember thinking you would sit up any minute and yell “Got you!” or something. I remember tears, and someone handing my grandmother a flag. But, I also remember there was laughter. And family. And food. And I remember thinking that is exactly what you would have wanted.
Mostly, I remember the music. I remember my dad quoting “Big House”- one of my all time favorite songs that I have grown to love even more since that day. I know that now, every time I listen to that song, I want to get up and dance- which is what you would want. But I also want to sit in a corner and think about you- which is something you would want as long as I wasn’t sad. I remember my oldest sister and cousins singing “It Is Well.” And I know that now, every time I hear that, I want to cry- which you would not want me to do. But, I also want to sing it with a beautiful passion as I bask in God’s amazing beauty- which is definitely what you would want me to do.
You would want me to jump up and shout “Come and go with me, to my Father’s house. It’s a big big house, with lots and lots of room.” You’d want me to pretend to eat food and throw a football as I exclaim “A big big table with lots and lots of food. A big big yard where we can play football.” And, I do it. Because I know you’d want me to. And, I know you’re doing it with me.
You’d want me to remember God’s faithfulness as I sing “When peace like a river attendeth my way. When sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.” You’d want me to raise my voice and sing with a passion as I echo “Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord oh my soul. It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul) it is well, it is well with my soul.” And I do. Because it is well with my soul.
And Boppa Guy, maybe that’s why today was so difficult. You see, I woke up with a painful twinge in my stomach and ache in my head. I thought maybe it was because I needed more sleep, or maybe it was a result of my current emotional state due to my recent heartbreak. But, then I remembered what day it was. January 18. And, then I knew. I knew the twinge was a reminder of the sadness of life but also that there’s “a big big table, with lots and lots of food.” I knew the ache was a reminder that pain exists, but that “whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.” And suddenly, I felt a sense of peace. You were reminding me that God’s present and that He, and you, love me. Because whatever my lot, you, Boppa, have taught me to say, “it is well with my soul.”
They played “It Is Well” at the end of a beautiful chapel service this afternoon. A service devoted to prayer. A service that I needed. A service that spoke to me so much at this point in my life. And, as I was walking out, I was already thinking of you, because you would have loved the service. And when they started playing “It Is Well,” I thought of you more. I thought about the fact that you have been gone for 11 years. Which means I have lived longer on this earth without you than I have with you. Which means I have few memories to remember you by, and each day my memory fades more and more. I thought about how I didn’t see you as I often as I would have liked, and I didn’t really spend time with you even when I was with you. I thought of all the memories we didn’t make. I thought about how I lost, or destroyed, or both, the rose I had gotten at your funeral. I thought about how there are few pictures of you and I together, but how I have a photo of you holding my doll- which at the time, was my most loved possession. The only thing I have of yours is a Bible that was given to me because you, like me, were hard of seeing. I thought about how you weren’t there to see me get baptized, or perform at my first Synchronized Swimming show, or compete at my first Bible Quizzing tournament, or graduate from high school. Or how you won’t be there to see me go on my first date, graduate from college, or get married. You won’t be able to meet your great grandchildren or watch your children and grandchildren grow up.
But, I guess in a way, you were there, and you will always be there. Because I see you everywhere. I see you in grandma, who misses you so much, and in the artwork she does that would make you so happy and so proud. How each stroke of her brush or line of her pen somehow reflects you and your love for her. I see you in your children. In my uncle who shares your name. My aunt who was always daddy’s little girl and who never stops talking about you. My dad, who acts more like you everyday, with each made up song lyric and ridiculous story. How he insists that every time something is wrong it’s “because we don’t drink enough water.” I see you in my cousin, who never got to meet you, but who looks so much like you. I see you in your great granddaughter, who may have been born into unfortunate circumstances, but who shares your joy for life. Who is so sweet and innocent- you’d love her so much. I see you in my older sister, who acts so much like you. Whose photo we have, sitting next to you on the couch, both of you crossing your arms, copying each other’s face. I see you in my oldest sister who looks exactly like your daughter and who makes jokes exactly like you would. I even see you in the flowers, trees, wind, and rain. Because you’re always here.
And so, Boppa Guy, I am still not sure exactly why today hurts more than it has in any of the past 11 years. Maybe it’s because we talked about the death of loved ones in one of my classes yesterday. Maybe it’s because I heard that song in chapel. Maybe it’s because I was so young when it happened that I’m just now realizing how painful it is. Maybe my sadness doesn’t just come from missing you. But, whatever the reason is, I know that today, I missed you. Bur, I also know that you loved- love- me, and would be proud of me. Although, to be fair, you were always proud of all your grandchildren. But, you’d be proud of who I am, and who I am becoming. You’d be proud that I have 19 books of the Bible memorized- some of which I memorized using your Bible- because you always loved to share your love of the Bible. You’d be proud to know that I have that same hunger and love for God’s Word you had. You’d be proud to know that I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, where I’m going, how I’ll get there, or what will happen along the way, but I know the One who does. And so, I know I missed you. I know that I am struggling through life right now, my heart is broken, and I don’t know if it’ll ever be whole again. But I also know that you have taught me to say “it is well.”